Many people shy away from freezing weather but not Yi Yin. She finds the snow cozy and is captivated by all things ice hockey. After only a few weeks into her exchange in the Finnish Lapland, she was already impressed — and started dreaming about a full Master's degree in Finland. Yin set her sights on the University of Helsinki and the Master’s Programme in Intercultural Encounters (ICE). She applied and was accepted in 2019.
"I am interested in how different cultures meet and communicate"
To people outside the ICE programme, intercultural encounters can be a confusing concept. In her first year of studies, Yin practiced explaining her degree to friends and family.
“In the ICE programme, we cover a range of topics. We can study on the level of different nations and get quite political and we can also study at a very interpersonal level. In my case, I am interested in how different cultures meet and communicate."
Through the choice of four thematic modules, ICE students are able to pick several areas of specialisation. Yin was especially drawn to the module in Communication and Media.
“At the Bachelor level, I studied communication and my studies were focused on interpersonal relations. With my Master's, I wanted to know more about the cultural aspects of relationships."
Between thematic studies, Finnish language courses, and internationally-focused career training, Yin has been able to further her previous degree while pushing herself out of her comfort zone.
"I have learned a lot, but most of all, I have been inspired to keep learning. I could never get bored of this topic."
Inspired by her surroundings
In the second year of her studies, Yin spends much of her time writing her Master’s thesis. The topic was inspired by one of her very first social interactions at the University of Helsinki.
“When I first came here, the Chinese Student Association had a welcome party for new students. I got to know someone who is ethnically Chinese and grew up in Finland. While we spoke, I noticed that our communication was different than if I were speaking to another person raised in China. This conversation got me thinking.”
A whole research plan snowballed from that small encounter.
In her thesis, Yin looks at the parent-child relationship within Chinese immigrant families in Finland. By analyzing separate interviews with immigrants parents and their Finnish-born children, she examines how cultural features affect the way they interact with each other.
"Most studies on this topic come from the United States. My research will shed light on an understudied context."
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Yin is writing her thesis from her apartment instead of the campus library. In order to change up her scenery, she balances screen time with trips outside.
“If you need a break from your computer, you can just take a walk. I am always stumbling upon new sights, even in my own neighborhood.”
Outdoor activities give Yin the energy she needs to focus on her research.
“In the ICE programme, you get a lot of support”
Yin’s current research process has been very different from her experience at the Bachelor level.
“When I was an undergraduate, I did a thesis but we didn’t really discuss methodology. And when I was working on my research, I didn’t have a course to help me write it. I had to google how to do things myself.”
Yin feels much more confident now. While she maintains a sense of autonomy over her learning, she routinely gets feedback from others. Each week, she meets with a peer seminar group to discuss the progress of her research. In addition, she has a great relationship with her thesis supervisor, Saila Poutiainen.
Poutiainen is not only a communication scholar but also the Director of the ICE programme. Most importantly, she taught several of Yin’s favorite classes, like Culture, Language and Interpersonal Communication.
“The small class sizes and individual attention is extremely effective for me. In the ICE programme, you get a lot of support.”
“The world is becoming more diverse and more dynamic”
Yin aims to put her expertise to use in the public sector, in the area of immigration. Although she went straight from undergraduate to graduate studies, she sees the ICE programme’s benefit for those who are farther along in their career.
“The world is becoming more diverse and more dynamic, so it is important to be able to navigate different perspectives."
She thinks everyone should take an interest in culture and its complexities.
"Intercultural understanding is not only useful but necessary."